In light of the 91st Academy Award Nominations being announced on January 22, 2019, I wanted to discuss some of the factors that tend to make the award season compelling for some cinephiles, even if many of us know that the award season is a political sham and doesn’t often acknowledge the best films or performances, or if they do, they may nominate them and have something or someone else win in their stead.
There has been a lot of discussion this year about the push to nominate the Marvel movie BLACK PANTHER for Best Picture, and when it did come out in early 2018, there was definitely talk of how the movie was great and that it deserved recognition…however, this is the Academy Awards. These are the people who barely even nominate Foreign films, animated films, or most genre pictures even after they expanded the nominations almost a decade ago when there was an outcry when The Dark Knight got snubbed for Best Picture (and, to a lesser extent, WALL-E and The Wrestler).
We have seen some good come from the nominee extension, such as TOY STORY 3 and UP slipping in the Picture race, but since then, no other animated film has managed it; we have also had some very questionable choices like THE BLIND SIDE.
This year, in particular, seems to be rather interesting in that many of the films aren’t drumming up a lot of personal passion and with that, it has been hard to pick a true frontrunner.
BLACK PANTHER is definitely a popular film and I do think that despite the critical pedigree it did receive and the fact that it stands out in today’s political environment, that it isn’t exactly a true worthy nominee. It won’t win but it certainly has a lot of the more mainstream film-goers over the moon while the more artsy lovers are questioning it.
BLACKKKLANSMEN is in an interesting place in this race. While it hasn’t won anything of note to make it a frontrunner, it is in a position still to potentially become a spoiler. Here is why: it is a social issue film focusing on racial inequality and it is very relevant more than ever in today’s society. It is also oddly benefits from a statistic that many award prognosticators have picked up on which is that it got into key categories that often signal a shot at Best Picture whereas the other major contenders all missed something big (which I will discuss when I get to those films). Also, Spike Lee received his first Directing nomination (kind of sad that it took THIS long) and he was also nominated for his screenplay. The kind of overdue recognition combined with the social issues and also the fact that it IS a very good film all make for an interesting analysis. It is also nominated at SAG for Best Ensemble, which the other major frontrunners are not. It is a precursor that has been considered important in the past and could be an interesting factor here. It could show major support from the Acting branch in this case, although they did snub the film’s star, John David Washington, but I don’t think this is as big a hurdle.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY has a lot of problems. Sure, it is a box office smash and it did manage to get some good reviews but it also has a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes which seems incredibly low for a movie to get into the Best Picture race…I mean, hell, CRASH even has a 74%! What helps the film is that it does have a strong leading performance from Rami Malek, who is a contender to win Best Actor, and that it seems to have enough support in the industry from the right people to get it into the race…and the Golden Globes giving it Best Picture was also rather surprising to some degree, even though it was known they passionately loved it. I think the film is experiencing enough backlash that a win would be completely out of the question, and it also missed out on Screenplay and Director nominations and you’d have to go back the 1930s in order to find a Best Picture winner who missed out on those nominations. Part of the controversy revolves around director Bryan Singer’s allegations of misconduct and that is a major well-deserved nail in the coffin when the film is already pretty polarizing to begin with.
THE FAVOURITE is in a very interesting position right now just like BLACKKKLANSMEN. It hasn’t really won any major precursors either, but it could do very well at BAFTA which could signal a late rally for the film as the Brits have a strong voting block within our Academy and lately, they have become a valuable precursor that ended up awarding mild surprises like Alan Arkin, Tilda Swinton, and Marion Cotillard. What also helps the film is that it is tied with ROMA for the most nominations this year (10) and it managed to get into the key categories (Director, Screenplay, Editing) that have always had a stronghold on tying into the Best Picture race. While I am not sure Olivia Colman will end up winning the Oscar (I feel like Glenn Close and Lady Gaga have too much of a strong narrative to win over her), she will very possibly win BAFTA because of the British connection as could Rachel Weisz which could pose interesting for the Supporting Actress race, which I will discuss on its own terms later. I wouldn’t rule out a sudden surge for THE FAVOURITE just as I wouldn’t rule out one for BLACKKKLANSMEN.
GREEN BOOK is basically this year’s DRIVING MISS DAISY down to involving a friendship forming between a black person and a white person while one of them is being chauffeured around, except in this case, the races are reversed and both are men. The other interesting thing is that GREEN BOOK managed to beat THE FAVOURITE at the Globes by winning Best Picture Comedy/Musical and even somewhat surprisingly winning Screenplay. Then, it picked up the PGA for Best Picture. However, what really hurts it in the Oscar race is the fact that Peter Farrelly was snubbed for Best Director, which coincidentally also happened with eventual Best Picture winner, drumroll please, DRIVING MISS DAISY. In the case of GREEN BOOK, it certainly seems to have a stronger critical consensus than a movie like BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and even another nominee I will soon discuss, but it still has an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes which doesn’t show passionate support plus some people, including the family/estate of Don Shirley, the real life musician that Mahershala Ali plays in the film, accuse the film of white-washing the story and that we don’t get enough from the point of view of Don Shirley. I don’t think GREEN BOOK is out of the running. DMD pulled it off, as did ARGO recently when Ben Affleck was snubbed for Director.
ROMA is currently my pick to win Best Picture, but even it has a couple of hurdles to face, even though I think it could overcome them. The big nomination it missed out on was Editing, which is an award that does seem strange to consider so important in the grand scheme. Nevertheless, most films that win Best Picture either WIN Editing or they are at least nominated for Editing. There have been some exceptions of course like ORDINARY PEOPLE or BIRDMAN (for obvious reasons), but it is still a telling situation. Whereas ROMA missed out in this category, the other nominees are all Best Picture contenders: BLACKKLANSMEN, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, THE FAVOURITE, GREEN BOOK, and VICE. What helps ROMA in this case is that it does have a strong critical pedigree in that it picked up some major critics’ awards for Best Picture, including the Critics’ Choice Awards while it has the overwhelming support for its director Alfonso Cuaron, and winning Director is often important (though lately not essential) with winning Best Picture. It also wasn’t eligible for the Globe for Best Drama Picture as they don’t allow foreign films to be nominated in the regular race (kind of ironic considering they are the Hollywood FOREIGN Press Association). That’s the other thing: foreign films rarely receive nominations for Best Picture and NO FOREIGN FILM HAS WON! So, history would be made if ROMA won for that reason, and I think it certainly has the ability to do so. The fact that its stars Yalitza Aparicio and especially Marina del Tavrira slipped into their races is telling that there is massive support for the film. It also should be noted that the film would also be the first streaming film (as it was originally intended for Netflix despite the brief time it played in movie theatres) to win the prize…and it was the first to receive a nomination.
A STAR IS BORN is the frontrunner that never really seemed to truly be the frontrunner in my eyes. I was surprised when people kept touting it as a strong contender to sweep the awards and that it was expected to win the Globe, but it lost the Globe and the PGA and then it suffered another big loss by them snubbing the director Bradley Cooper. Unlike GREEN BOOK or BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, this film was much better received by film critics and seems to be more beloved by cinephiles as well. I don’t think it’s impossible for it to get a revival but it never really had much of a time on top to begin with, so I personally think its chances are dead.
VICE is the other big polarizing film in this race, with a 64% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, what stands out with this film as opposed to BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY or even GREEN BOOK is that it also managed all the key nominations for Director, Screenplay, and Editing. It could very well score a Best Actor win for Christian Bale and there is even a path (at least of this writing) where I can see Amy Adams taking Supporting Actress. She is now on her 6th nomination and was also snubbed back in 2017 for her lovely subtle performance in ARRIVAL, plus she was arguably left off the list back in 2008 for her charming mainstream breakthrough role in ENCHANTED while being the critical darling way back on her first nomination for JUNEBUG. In this case, her overdue status could propel her here but I will go into that further when I discuss the BSActress race. Can VICE win Best Picture? I highly doubt it. Despite the widespread nomination support, I really don’t see a path for it to win Best Picture unless there is some kind of crazy vote splitting and it would be a huge shock to basically everyone.
So, as of this moment, I stand by my prediction for ROMA but I also see a path of victory for BLACKKLANSMEN, THE FAVOURITE, and GREEN BOOK.
Now, I want to discuss this BSActress race as it is definitely quite interesting. The critics and the Golden Globes have primarily crowned Regina King for her work in IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. Then a major wrench was thrown in: she was snubbed at both the SAG Awards and at BAFTA. The latter isn’t exactly as important but since the SAGs were first given, only one person has ever won an Oscar without being nominated at SAG: Marcia Gay Harden for POLLOCK…which was also a rather surprising nomination to begin with (but clearly the best performance). Without King in the SAG/BAFTA races, that opens up the chance for someone else to build momentum, and the two people that are expecting to do so are either Rachel Weisz for THE FAVOURITE and Amy Adams for VICE. One could win both or they could split them; the scenario I could see occurring is that Adams would win SAG while Weisz would win BAFTA (the whole British thing) and that could still give King enough to buck the trend and win the Oscar. Now, it is definitely possible that Adams or Weisz could win one apiece and still win the Oscar…or one could win both and yet STILL lose to Regina King. I think another factor is that IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK underperformed in that it missed out on Best Picture whereas THE FAVOURITE is tied among the most nominations and VICE has 8 nominations. What helps Adams is that overdue factor whereas Weisz has won before (coincidentally beating Adams on her first and perhaps best nomination), but most people seem to agree that this isn’t Adams’ best work. Weisz (along with her costar Emma Stone in this category) is pretty much a co-lead so she is basically committing category fraud…could be beneficial in this race in a negative way as she makes more of an impact. THEN we have Marina del Taviria from ROMA: a surprise nominee from what I think is the closest thing we have to a Best Picture frontrunner. Her inclusion is VERY interesting because her performance is quite good and worthy of the recognition and the fact that she has received basically ZERO precursor attention prior to this. Her slot was being debated by most people to go to either Nicole Kidman for BOY ERASED, Margot Robbie for MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, Claire Foy for FIRST MAN, or Emily Blunt for A QUIET PLACE. Considering this was for the last slot, neither of them seemed to drum up as much passion as the other four (although Emily Blunt seems to have a lot of support after she got snubbed here and in lead for MARY POPPINS RETURNS). So, having someone included that was NOT one of these three ladies is kind of telling and could spell good news for Marina del Taviria. Her nomination, along with the obvious support for ROMA, shows she herself might be a contender to watch out for, especially since this race has the whole “King snubbed from SAG/BAFTA” angle and then the overdue/potential last minute award surge that Adams could take and the co-lead and quite beloved work of Rachel Weisz which could rally at SAG and even more likely at BAFTA giving her the last surge prior to the Oscars. Other than Emma Stone, I can honestly see a path to any of these 4 ladies winning at the moment…and that’s incredibly exciting to me. On top of those scenarios, you also have another one in that the Academy may be inclined to give a certain film an acting award if they really love it and want to acknowledge it…and that only makes the case for 3 of these ladies stronger. Marina del Taviria could be that for ROMA, Weisz could be that for THE FAVOURITE, and Adams could be that for VICE. However, Adams has a co-star who is a strong frontrunner (Bale); Weisz’s lead co-star, however, is probably going to lose to Glenn Close or Lady Gaga. It will be incredibly interesting to see how SAG and BAFTA go…and even then, I still think Oscar night will be fun for this category.
BSActor is often the race that tends to get forgotten about in the awards shuffle, and I feel like it still somewhat is this year too. In this race, we have the possibility that Mahershala Ali could become a two-time Oscar winner in just the span of 3 years as he just won for MOONLIGHT back in 2017. The thing about Ali is that he has the precursor wins to pull it off and his film is still a good possibility for our Best Picture winner so he could go along for that ride and also be a big way to honor the film. Right now, my money is on him and in my opinion, his work here is actually better than in MOONLIGHT (although here he is a co-lead while in MOONLIGHT he was only onscreen for maybe 15-20 minutes). With young Timothee Chalamet being snubbed for his lovely work in the otherwise mawkish BEAUTIFUL BOY, who could possibly be a potential upset in this race? You could make a case for Richard E. Grant as he is an old-time character actor who many thought was an early frontrunner in the category and with his British background, he could make a last minute splash at SAG and be an alternative vote if people actively don’t want to vote for Ali again. There is even a possible route for Sam Elliot, another veteran character actor and SAG certainly does have a history of sentimental veteran wins at times, especially when they gave it to Gloria Stuart (who tied with Basinger) and Ruby Dee. Last year’s winner Sam Rockwell doesn’t really have a chance; I think he is just fresh on their minds and he does well in VICE but it is a brief performance and nothing that seems strong enough to warrant back-to-back Oscars. I also don’t see Adam Driver taking this, and while he was solid in the film, it just didn’t seem like a performance that warranted an Oscar nomination, especially when other people in the film were more interesting with even less screentime. It isn’t a bad nomination, but I don’t see it as a win-worthy performance. So, right now, I stick with Ali but I could see a possible Grant/Elliot surge at the last minute.
Best Actor seems to be leaning towards Christian Bale at the moment, but I also wouldn’t rule out Rami Malek. Both won Globes while Bale beat him at the Critics’ Choice Awards. In this case, SAG and BAFTA, once again, will make the final case. Being Welsh, Bale could have an upper hand at BAFTA as they do tend to lean towards their own in lots of races (ex: Carey Mulligan beating out Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock) but what could also help Malek there is that he is playing a British icon and he plays him very well. Even if one wins SAG and one wins BAFTA, it is easily anyone’s game. If one wins both, I think the race is basically over. The dark horse here is Bradley Cooper, who was left out of the Best Director race. Most people feel that Cooper is the true acting star of STAR and that perhaps honoring him here would be a great way to acknowledge all of his hard work on the film, his good performance, and even sort of a career win, too. I am not saying this couldn’t happen but I do think it’s a slight longshot. I think he would have to win at SAG and probably the BAFTA as well to even be a strong contender at this point. Willem Dafoe was somewhat of a surprise nominee and I think he will remain a non-factor in this race, but it is lovely to see him here. Bale also has an Oscar already, albeit in Supporting, which could tip the scales somewhat to Malek but if Ali can do it this year and others have done it, so can Bale. I actually am going to predict Bale as his film still seems to have stronger support within the Academy without the controversy of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, but I could still see a strong path for him, especially if he wins at SAG and/or BAFTA.
Best Actress seems to be the acting race people love to analyze and fight about: everyone loves their divas! Right now, this race seems to be down to two very different kinds of performances: an overdue film/theatre veteran and a pop star turned actress. Oddly enough, there are some parallels in that Glenn Close is fighting off another music sensation just like when she lost to Cher for MOONSTRUCK when she was up for FATAL ATTRACTION. Glenn Close does have a lot in her favor: not only is she highly overdue for an Oscar, but most people think she is really great in her movie…some even go as far to say she is giving her best performance to date. Also, in the height of the #metoo movement and women’s equality, her work in the film is also socially relevant and important. While she would be her only film’s nomination, she should have enough in her favor to overcome that just as others have in the past. Having said that, there is still a chance Lady Gaga could pull this off. She did get great reviews and is, not surprising, the populist choice and many Academy voters probably see the potential in looking cool when giving Gaga an Oscar. It is also possible that Gaga could win twice as she is the frontrunner to win for Best Song, but I am still hoping to Close pulls off this win and I think she is in the best position to do so with a combination of the performance, the overdue factor, and the relevant backdrop. The dark-horse would be Olivia Colman, who will probably take home the BAFTA due to being, once again, British. So, you could say that she would have some significant support to topple Close and Gaga considering she has the Globe as well and has received a lot of attention not just from this but also from the fact that she is replacing Claire Foy on THE CROWN. Nevertheless, I don’t predict that Colman wins this unless by some chance she surprisingly pulls it off at SAG. That brings up to our last two nominees: Yalitza Aparicio and Melissa McCarthy. The former is a mild surprise but many predicted it while the latter was more expected and her work, as was her film, were highly acclaimed…and it also helps that this is the first real dramatic work we’ve seen from her and she did it very well. I don’t really see a path for them to win though, and while you could say Aparicio has an amazing PR backstory, I don’t think it’s enough when even the dark-horse in this race is giving a performance that is worthy of winning and probably could have in other years. I do want to call out Emily Blunt here as many people have been expressing sadness over her missing out on both nominations. I sort of felt like it was going to happen, especially in the case of this race as I didn’t think her performance in what is essentially a fluff Disney sequel would garner this kind of attention. Sure, Julie Andrews WON for the role but there were also a lot of political aspects to her win and it was a much different time for the Academy. Blunt should get her due soon enough, but if anyone was really snubbed here, it was Toni Collette. Facing an early release date and the horror bias and not much precursor attention, Collette’s work in HEREDITARY was absolutely chilling and gutwrenching and it is a shame that she can’t be listed among these nominees.
DIRECTOR seems to be in the bag for Alfonso Cuaron, which will be his second Oscar and it continues the trend that he himself started with a Latino renaissance of Best Director wins: him in 2014 for Gravity, Alejandro Innauritu in 2015 for Birdman and then The Revenant in 2016, and then 2018 with The Shape of Water’s Guillermo del Toro. His current lead in this race also helps the chance of ROMA actually winning Best Picture as that awards often goes hand in hand with Best Director, but recent years have proven that theory wobbly. Since 2010, a split has occurred 4 times between Picture and Director (it also happened four times from 2000-2009). So, it is possible that Cuaron could win but another movie could take the Best Picture honors…and as of this moment, without the DGA winner being announced, that seems more probable than the other way around. If I were to name a potential spoiler, I’d opt for Spike Lee as he does a good job with his film and he also has an overdue narrative in that he has inexplicably never been nominated for a directing Oscar and some may feel compelled to vote for him. However, he also has a Screenplay nomination which we will get to. Yorgos Lanthimos also managed to get in and I don’t see him taking it in this scenario unless they end up really getting behind THE FAVOURITE and I feel like he would have to win the DGA in order to do that. Pawel Pawlikowski managed a surprise nom of sorts for his Polish film COLD WAR and it’s a very well deserved nomination. He won Best Foreign Language Film in the past for IDA so he is no stranger to the Oscars, but my suspicion is he won’t end up factoring here, especially since COLD WAR didn’t make it into the Best Picture race. I also don’t see any hope for Adam McKay for VICE, especially since many people find his nomination to be the sore thumb here and with all the polarizing talk and being up against people who directed more critically acclaimed and beloved films, I just feel like he should be honored to be nominated with them. It’s also an eclectic list as McKay is the only white American director as Pawlikowski is Polish, Lanthimos is Greek, Cuaron is Mexican, and Lee is an African-American. It’s awesome to see!
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
The screenplay categories are often where more critically acclaimed, quirky, but just miss the mark for Best Picture films seem to have a better chance of shining, at least with just nominations. The one film to have that distinction is FIRST REFORMED, written by Paul Schrader. I don’t think he has a shot here despite the film and his own pedigree. Plus, he is up against 4 of the Best Picture nominees: THE FAVOURITE, GREEN BOOK, ROMA, and VICE. While GREEN BOOK managed to win the Globe, a lot of people suspect that the wittier pedigree of THE FAVOURITE might push it over the edge. It IS possible that Cuaron could pull off an upset with ROMA if the film has coattails but personally, I didn’t see the Screenplay as anything overly remarkable. It serviced the film well but it was more about the experience and emotions and I feel like dialogue plays a role in choosing…and in this case, I feel THE FAVOURITE outshines it…and you could even make a case for GREEN BOOK. The WGAs will be a good indicator. It is also a shame that EIGHTH GRADE missed out here and that the quirky gem SORRY TO BOTHER YOU couldn’t gain traction.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
I stated above how the Screenplay nominations can have an “Always a bridesmaid” quality, but here is a true statistic: No film has ever won Best Adapted Screenplay without having a Best Picture nomination since GODS & MONSTERS won all the way back in 1999. With Original Screenplay, the last instance was ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND in 2005. With that in mind, that makes this particular race even more interesting as most of the awards have been won by Barry Jenkins for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, which ended up getting snubbed for Best Picture. Could the trend be broken again? You also have BLACKKLANSMEN here which does have a Picture nomination and it would be a way to honor Spike Lee with his first Oscar and the script was definitely worthy of the attention. The statistics and support don’t seem to help CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? or the rather surprising nomination for The Coen Brothers’ script for THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS. Now, that leaves A STAR IS BORN. I suppose you could say this would be another place to honor the film and Bradley Cooper all in one place but the tide doesn’t seem to be going that way. So right now, it seems to be a very close race with BLACKKKLANSMEN and IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. Statistics seem more probable for the former while the previous awards seem to show a push for the latter. Barry Jenkins also won two years ago for MOONLIGHT so if voters are conscious of that, they may want to spread the wealth and give it to Spike Lee for the first time…and then that film winning here could even signal support towards a possible Best Picture upset.
So, I honestly wouldn’t call any race a true lock at this point, but I feel the most comfortable predicting Close for Actress, Cuaron for Director, and Ali for Supporting Actor. I still think Bale/Malek is a close call and that Supporting Actress could go to any of them except for Emma Stone.
Here are the major categories with my current predictions listed:
Best Picture: ROMA
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, ROMA
Best Actor: Christian Bale, VICE
Best Actress: Glenn Close, THE WIFE
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, GREEN BOOK
Best Supporting Actress: Regina King, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Best Original Screenplay: THE FAVOURITE
Best Adapted Screenplay: BLACKKLANSMEN
And I have a feeling I may change these, which is kind of exciting!